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Changes could save regional jail authority $2 million

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The state Regional Jail Authority is on track to again reduce per diem costs at its facilities statewide, which could save counties thousands of dollars in jail fees.

The state Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority Board agreed last October to reduce costs by 55 cents per day. Those cuts went into effect July 1 and are expected to save counties and state agencies about $900,000 per year.

Joe DeLong, director of the Regional Jail Authority, told board members at a Monday meeting the authority might be able to reduce per diem costs again this year. He said it is too soon to tell how much those reductions will be, but board members likely will vote on them in October.

DeLong said the reductions are a result of the authority getting better control of its finances.

That includes a new pilot program that aims to reduce overtime pay by hiring new correctional officers.

The program went into effect June 1 at South Central Regional Jail in South Charleston, where an additional 14 correctional officers were hired.

DeLong said South Central averaged about 4,560 overtime hours per month before hiring the new guards. In June, the number was down to 1,005.

Even after training the new officers and paying for their salaries and benefits, the jail saved about $18,000 last month on overtime costs. DeLong said he expects those savings will increase as the pilot program grows, saving the jail $20,000 to $22,000 monthly.

The Regional Jail Authority hopes to eventually expand the program to all 10 of its jails, hiring as many as 125 new officers system-wide. DeLong estimates that could save the authority $2 million annually.

DeLong said it does not seem to make sense that hiring more employees would save money, but "the data on paper showed that it made sense."

"This has been a great way for us to 'put your money where your mouth is,' " he said.

Reducing overtime pay will save jails money in other ways, too. DeLong expects turnover rates will decrease as mandatory overtime disappears.

He said officers listed "burnout" as the No. 1 reason for quitting. Often, workers show up for 12-hour shifts but end up working 16 to 18 hours.

Reducing overtime also would cut down on incidents and allegations of abuse on inmates, DeLong said, and limit the number of worker's compensation claims by officers.

Last October's per diem reductions reduced the amount counties pay the authority from $48.80 a day to $48.25. Even that small change is expected to save counties more than $500,000.

Kanawha County is set to save about $56,000.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.harold@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.

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